Archive for June, 2011

To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause within our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace.
-  Terry Tempest Williams


For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been raising and releasing butterflies, primarily Monarch butterflies but sometimes a swallowtail or other friend will come under my care and observation as well.

I started this when I first saw a Monarch caterpillar transform from caterpillar to chrysalis and was fascinated by what was happening. All the years (and butterfly transformations) later, I’m still in awe by what happens, and it’s nice to be a part of it.

If you planted a Monarch Waystation last fall (or have a nice robust garden with host plants that butterflies will come to), you might want to give a go at raising and releasing a butterfly or two this year. 

Having the host plant (the plant that the caterpillar eats as it matures) is critical – caterpillars eat a lot and you don’t want to run out. The host plant is unique to the butterfly you are raising so keep that in mind too. Our Gardening for Wildlife Plantlist provides information on host plants for Loudoun butterflies.

Here is a link to the fairly new Raising Butterflies website. It provides some very detailed and useful information and techniques for rearing butterflies.  While the focus is on western U.S. butterflies, many of the species and techniques are applicable to the east.


I would like to paint the way a bird sings.
- Claude Monet


Fireflies are lighting up our night skies right now and the Blue Ridge Center is an incredible place to watch and learn about them!  There are lots of different species and they send out different secret codes in their flashes.  Come out to learn about these neat insects!

Firefly Fling
Saturday, June 25, 7 – 9:30 pm
Location: Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship
Registration: Adult – $10; Youth (Ages 5 – 18) – $3; Ages 5 and under – free; Register at

Fireflies(aka lightning bugs) are lighting up the night sky at the Blue Ridge Center. Join naturalist Cliff Fairweather to find out what fireflies really are, how and why they light up, why some fireflies are cannibals, and other cool things about firefly lives. After a firefly talk, we’ll take a walk to look for fireflies and other creatures of the evening. For more information contact Jeffrey Alvey at


Today is the summer solstice – when we have the longest period of daylight for the year.

Enjoy it by taking a great nature walk at dusk – all sorts of great things happen at that time as various mammals start to wake from their naps and head out to forage for food or patrol their territories.

Keep a keen eye for rustling leaves to see what may be stirring. Listen for birds as they make their final chip calls of the day.


No, I’m not talking human body parts here — I’m talking butterflies (of course!)  This past weekend I spied a caterpillar on a tree that “volunteered” to grow at the end of our driveway. 

What do we do when we spot a new caterpillar? Drag out the caterpillar book of course and begin the investigation! I actually wasn’t sure what tree it was since it was so immature but as I compared caterpillar images to the one on our tree, I narrowed it down to either a Sulphur or a Snout. 

Now, sulphurs use clovers and alfalfa and such as their host plant and this certainly was not a clover tree so I then looked further into the host plant for the American Snout. 

As it turns out, they feed on the Hackberry tree and we just happen to have some of those growing in our yard, so it was plausible.  After checking leaf images, I was sure it was an American Snout. The next day, the caterpillar had transformed into a chrysalis and after checking some images on that front, there was certainly no doubt. 

In about 12 days, it will hatch out as a butterfly and go off to nectar on Clethra Sweet pepperbush, and other favorite nectar plants before beginning the cycle again.

Posting a few more photos in our facebook album showing the newly formed chrysalis as well as an adult so you can see this neat butterfly.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this one and watching for the emergence. Having a diversity of native plants and trees in your yard brings a host (pun intended) of wildlife into your life.


Wondering what the conditions are of streams running through your neighborhood? 

Here’s a really cool resource to find out: Loudoun County Stream Assessment

Simply enter your street address and click “find”.  A map will pop up showing the streams near you.  Click on the yellow pin points to pull up the reports.

Visit Loudoun Watershed Watch for more information as well as the County’s Stream Assessment pages.


Linda Millington, our volunteer coordinator, sent me a funny email about Gray Tree frogs that use her patio umbrella as a place to hide out during the day.

Here’s what Linda shared:

Every year we have at least two tree frogs that love our umbrellas around the pool.

We have large cement bases for the umbrellas that are shaped like frogs so we joke that they are there because of the tree frog gods.

This summer we have three – they all hang out all day in the folds of the umbrella or on the poles and then depart at night.

Here are photos of one – one bathed in green light. They are so cute!

If you live in a wooded area and have some water nearby, you probably have Gray Tree Frogs too.


As the summer heats up and babies fledge, we wanted to send over this reminder to watch out for hummingbirds that can get trapped in your garage or shed when you leave the door open. 

The following was posted to the VA-Bird Listserv and provides a good reminder of how these little birds can get into trouble fast:

Yesterday I went into our shed and heard a funny buzzy noise between the window and indoor shutter.  I opened the shudder to find a female hummingbird cowering on the sill.  I picked her up and released her outside.  We’ve had wrens and phoebes indoors before and even a Magnolia Warbler (twice).  This was my first hummer.  Must remember to  keep the door closed from now on. John Spahr

If you find a hummingbird trapped in your garage or shed, and it is very weak, call the Wildlife Rescue League at 703-440-0800. In some cases, you can offer it some hummingbird nectar (1/4 cup white sugar dissolved in 1 cup warm water) but in other cases it may need to be treated for dehydration and a rehabber will be your best bet.  The Wildlife Rescue League will call you back with instructions.


The Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has begun surveying the flora & fauna at the future White’s Ford Park in the Lucketts area of Loudoun County and paid a visit to the property this past Monday and Saturday. 

Most of the property is being farmed at this time and there are cattle on part of it and crops on other parts.  In an area far back from the road that had recently been hayed there were large weedy patches that had not been cut. 

We were excited to find at least four DICKCISSELS. Two of them were a pair who checked out two different possible nesting sites in large patches of thistle that were surrounded by a recently bush-hogged and baled (round) hay. 

We also had a number of GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS (8 to 10).  In one case we inadvertently got too close to a Grasshopper Sparrow’s nest & it darted out the weeds and led us away with a distraction display. 

We also watched a TURKEY VULTURE leaving a small entrance in one of the old farm buildings and two different WILD TURKEYS in the fields of grain along the river.  We also saw three different immature BALD EAGLES, two of which were approx. the same age while the other was much younger.  Our other highlights included a calling WILLOW FLYCATCHER and both oriole species.